Former Abortionist: Dr. Anthony Levantino

This is the testimony of Dr. Anthony Levantino at the Meet the Abortion Providers Conference in 1993, presented by the Pro-Life Action League.

“Good morning. I’m relatively new in the Pro-Life Movement. My wife, Cecelia, is here as well, and we live in Albany, New York. We didn’t really become active in Pro-Life until approximately the last year and one-half.

One of the people who is very active in Pro-Life in Albany, a man named Dennis Walterding (and a more dedicated person you’ve never seen), warned me when I first joined the group locally and started speaking, that I was going to become very well-known very quickly. I doubted it at the time, but a short time later I find myself standing in Chicago, and he was right.

My wife pointed out to me that I met Dr. Randall for the first time a couple of years ago at the New York State Right-to-Life Convention, and did not realize until today that he was also a graduate of the Albany Medical Center in Albany, New York. You are going to think that every abortionist in the country is trained there, but that’s not true.

I have practiced obstetrics and gynecology in private practice since 1980. My residency started in 1976, four years of residency until 1980, and then I went into private practice, first in Florida for a year, and then in New York State. As part of my training, I was taught to do abortions.

I’ve heard different things from different people about their training programs. Many people have asked me: Were you forced to do abortions? Were you pressured to do abortions during your residency? And the answer is no. Having spoken to other people, I found that was not the case at different institutions. Apparently, a lot of obstetrical and gynecologic residents are very, very pressured to do abortions, but that was not the case where I trained. In our group of seven, only one did not want to do abortions and did not. He currently practices in Boston.

Unlike some of the other speakers, I have never been involved in a large-scale abortion mill, a business (and it is a business, don’t kid yourselves) that was set up for the sole purpose of performing abortions. My experiences are perhaps a little more universal in terms of obstetricians and gynecologists in the country who were trained to do abortions during their residencies and then continued doing so as a part of their private practice, but not even the major part. Certainly it was never a major part of our private practice.

My partner and I, however, were relatively important in the Albany area for one infamous fact, which to this day I regret. Our group was just about the only group that was performing late abortions, D&E procedures, Dilatation and Evacuation.(He describes this type of abortion in detail here.)  And we received referrals from all over the area in our part of the state from not only just the doctors in Albany and Schenectady, but from neighboring counties 70 to 80 miles away. We had a lot of patients.

18 weeks- typical age for a D & E abortion
I’ve never actually counted. I’m glad I can’t say that I’m responsible for 50,000 plus [D & E] abortions, but I know I’ve done hundreds of the procedures, and that’s direct, hands-on involvement, as Mr. Scheidler said, with the forceps in your hand, reaching into somebody’s uterus and tearing out a baby.

People ask, why do doctors do abortions?Many of the reasons have come out already, and I am going to amplify them. It’s profitable, a lot of money in it! One way to make abortion less available is to make it unprofitable, and there are probably a lot of ways you can do that.

I am curious to talk to some of the other speakers in terms of the issue of liability insurance. I don’t know what the laws are like someplace else, and it’s an interesting tack to follow. But in New York State there’s no insurance penalty at all that I’m aware of. You pay one flat rate; it’s a high rate, I can tell you. But you pay one flat rate for your insurance and then you can do anything. You can do radical surgery for cancer; you can do deliveries; you can do abortions until they come out of your ears. There’s no insurance penalty in New York State.

Why do doctors do abortions? Why did I do abortions? There’s a philosophical thing that comes first. As I’m fond of telling people, if you are pro-choice or what a lot of people like to say, morally neutral on the subject (if there is such a thing, and I don’t really think there is), if you are pro- choice and you happen to be a gynecologist, then it’s up to you to take the instruments in hand and actively perform an abortion. It’s the most natural association in the world. And you do that as part of your training. There’s a lot to learn from abortion. It sounds awful, but it’s true. There’s a lot of medical things you can learn by doing abortions that even translate into the rest of your practice… how to do a good D&C; how to do a good D&C under difficult circumstances. A D&C during abortion is more dangerous than a D&C done for any other purpose. I was taught to do saline abortions during my residency. I am going to assume that most of the people here are fairly sophisticated and know what these procedures entail. When I give talks at home, I have a slide presentation because a lot of people don’t know what abortion is about. They don’t know what is being aborted, and they don’t know how it is being done. But doing a saline abortion teaches you how to do a good amniocentesis. I think I do the best amniocentesis in town, and I learned it doing abortions.

In any case, if you are of a persuasion that, yes, women have a choice; if you’ve been sold that bill of goods and you believe it, and you’re a gynecologist, then you do them.

Along the way you find out you make a lot of money doing abortions. Now you can make a lot of money being a doctor anyway, and I’m not going to try to snow you and say that’s not true. I make a very good living. I hope I always do. But I won’t make another dime doing an abortion! It’s not worth it to me.

There’s a very big discrepancy in the kind of fees that doctors collect. They’re not always figured out in any kind of logical way. I’ll give you an example. When I am going to deliver a baby, I’m going to have that woman in my office for seven to eight months; she will have unlimited office visits. I get calls all hours of the day and night. More often than not, I’m getting up in the middle of the night. In Eastern New York I can tell you, at this time of year, it’s not a particularly fun thing to do: to go out in a blizzard and drive to the hospital, sit by a bedside for hours watching somebody in labor, accomplishing the delivery, hoping to God that everything works out well, as it usually does. And then following her afterwards; follow-up visits in the office. Then you wait and you expect that everything’s over. Usually it is over, but sometimes it’s not. Six or seven years later you suddenly get a request from a lawyer that they want the medical records because the baby has a problem of some sort. That doesn’t mean you’re responsible, but this nation is set up in such a way that families, if they have a deformed or an unhealthy child for any reason, and healthcare costs being what they are, when you have a disabled child (anyone here who has one can tell you), your medical costs are going to be in the tens of thousands, easily, and can run up to very high numbers. You have no recourse; you have no source of funds, other than going back and suing the people who did the delivery in the first place. It’s a big responsibility. I could be an ophthalmologist and I could take a cataract out; it would take me about 30 minutes and I’d make $2,000. There are discrepancies in the way those fees are figured.

Or I can do an abortion. I can work in an abortion clinic, I work 9:00 to 5:00; I’m never bothered at night; I never have to go out on weekends; I make more money than my obstetrician brethren. And I don’t have to face the liability. That’s a big factor, a huge perk.

In my practice, we were averaging between $250 and $500 for an abortion, and it was cash. That’s the one time as a doctor you can say, either pay me up front or I’m not going to take care of you. It’s totally elective. When a woman comes to me and is pregnant, and her husband’s lost a job, and maybe their insurance isn’t in effect, we won’t turn her away. But when somebody’s going to have an abortion, it’s an elective procedure. Either you have the money or you don’t, and they get it.

You can go in on a Monday morning, do three or four abortions (the procedure itself doesn’t take five or six minutes), clean up the room, make room for the next patient, put her in. I’ll be out of there in two hours; be out in time for lunch; nobody’s going to call me at night; and I almost never, never have to worry about her lawyer ever bothering me. And I’m going to make the same amount of money as if I did one delivery with all those months of work. Now, who’s the fool? The Pro-Life obstetrician or the abortionist?

There are other reasons; they’re perhaps no less important. I’ve heard many times from other obstetricians: Well, I’m not really pro-abortion, I’m pro-woman. How many times have you heard that one? The women’s groups in this country, they’re not alone, but they’ve done a very good job of selling that bill of goods to the population. That somehow destroying a life is being pro-woman, but a lot of obstetricians use that justification to themselves, and I can tell you, a lot of them believe it. I used to. It’s not hard to be convinced of it.

8 weeks

At least once a week–sometimes twice–I would be the resident whose turn it was to sit down and do the four, or five, or six suction D&C abortions that morning. When you finish a suction D&C the doctor has to open a little suction bag and he has to literally reassemble the child. You have to do that because you want to make sure he didn’t leave anything behind.

I had complications, just like everybody else. I have perforated uteruses. I have had all kinds of problems– bleeding, infection–Lord knows how many of those women are sterile now. I remember getting called down to my chairman’s office because a young lady that I had done an abortion on showed up, interestingly enough in Troy, New York (where I now work), and the abortion had been incomplete. I had not done my job right, and she passed an arm or a leg and she freaked out because she didn’t realize what had happened.

18 weeks

My discomfort came at that point because there was this tremendous conflict going on within me. Here I was; I was doing my D&Cs five and six a week, and I was doing salines on a nightly basis whenever I was on call. The resident on call got the job of doing the salines and there would usually be two or three of those, and they were horrible because you saw one intact, whole baby being born, and sometimes they were alive. That was very, very frightening. It was a very stomach-turning kind of existence. Yet, I was doing that at the same time that my wife and I were trying to have a child, and we were having difficulty with that. We had been married a couple of years at that point–and no baby. Suddenly, we realized that we had an infertility problem. I kept doing abortions; I didn’t stop. But it was tough. We were going crazy trying to find a baby to adopt because once the work-up was done, we found out, as the infertility specialist said (who was a good friend of ours), I never tell anyone they are not going to get pregnant, but don’t count on it. So we started desperately looking for a baby to adopt, and I was throwing them in the garbage at the rate of nine and ten a week. It even occurred to me then: I wish one of these people would just let me have their child. But it doesn’t work that way. So the conflict was there. There are other conflicts that make the run-of-the-mill gynecologist/obstetrician uncomfortable.

19 weeks- typical age for a saline abortion

Most of the time in our practice was not spent doing abortions. It was providing obstetrical care for people who wanted their children. It is very common for your obstetrician to have an ultrasound machine. I bet the majority of obstetricians now have ultrasound machines in their office. We use that ultrasound machine on a daily basis. As a doctor, you know that these are children; you know that these are human beings with arms and legs and heads and they move around and they are very active. But you get reminded–every time you put that scanner down on somebody’s uterus–you are reminded. Because you see the children in there–hearts beating, arms flinging. We have a ball with it. It is a lot of fun. I showed a mother two days ago her baby sucking his thumb. It was so clear; it was obvious what was going on–14 weeks. You can see them earlier than that. We have people coming in who have bleeding and who are afraid they may have a miscarriage–now this is someone who wants to have their child. There is no better news for me than to put that scanner on them at seven and eight weeks and show them a heartbeat and say: Your baby is okay. You do that as an obstetrician all the time. And then, an hour later, you walk into an operating room and you do an abortion. It’s hard. If you have any heart at all, and I don’t pretend to be a particularly good or moral person, but if you have any heart at all, it affects you.

 

We were lucky. My wife and I were very fortunate because we had gone through all the usual adoption agencies and social services and state agencies trying to find our child. We ran up against one road block after another, until I suddenly got the bright idea (and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner), that I know 45 obstetricians on a first-name basis in this town. You can’t tell me that one of them is not going to have a baby available for a private adoption. So, we advertised. We talked to every obstetrician in town and we struck pay dirt. It still took four months. But one day we got a call. I was in the operating room and I will never forget it–I was not doing an abortion–I was assisting an attending gynecologist with an operation. Somebody tapped me on the back of the shoulder and I turned around and he said: Call so-and-so right away. That was all the message said, but I just knew what it was. For us, we were very fortunate; we were blessed. Three days later we had adopted a healthy little girl. We were satisfied. We called her Heather.

After graduation, I went to Florida for a year. Nice weather, but it was not a place for a young couple with young children–at least the place where we had settled–so after a year, we left there. I think I did two abortions all year and that’s because there was an older population there. There was not much of a demand, at least in the area that I was in.

I found myself back in the Albany area. We went back there because that was where our roots were. My partner did D&E abortions. In fact, he was the referral center for D&E abortions in the area. I had only done one D&E abortion as a resident, and it was with him because he was, at the time, just exploring the idea of doing it. Normally, the residents did not assist the attending physicians when they did their abortions. I said, “Gee, Bill, I would like to see just one of those things.” He said, “Well … why don’t you do it and I’ll show you how it works, because it’s different; it’s not like the other abortions. It’s very different.” No more with this saline. You trade one kind of brutality for another. I will tell you one thing about D&E, you never have to worry about a baby being born alive. That’s one positive aspect of it, perhaps, if you want to put it that way. If any of you don’t know what D&E is all about, I am not going to describe it other than to say, as a doctor, you are sitting there tearing, and I mean tearing–you need a lot of strength to do it–arms and legs off of babies and putting them in a stack on top of a table. If any of you don’t know what a D&E is or what it looks like, I am going to strongly refer you to Dr. Nathanson’s film, Eclipse of Reason. I think it is an absolutely superb piece of work, and when that film is over, you are going to know what D&E is all about.

17 weeks

As a resident, I did one D&E with my partner-to-be. I had no idea we would be partners in the years to come. I started the procedure. I followed his directions and in three minutes, I perforated the uterus. It is very easy to do. We were able to complete the D&E and, except for the infection she got afterwards, she did okay. I do believe that the lady had some children afterwards, for which I am grateful. That was my first experience with D&E.

So, I learned to do D&E abortions. Now I had a family of my own, and there was no pressure to adopt a child anymore. As often happens, although the books say it is not supposed to, (not that it is not supposed to but it doesn’t statistically make any difference) after we adopted a child, after years of trying, we had a child of our own. So we had a boy and a girl, and we were perfectly happy with that.

We can talk about why doctors do abortions, and I think that the reasons tend to be more or less universal. But why doctors change their mind, my guess at least, is very personal. It is going to be very different from one doctor to the next. We all respond to different kinds of pressures. Our office was picketed. Our hospital was picketed. It is very uncomfortable to have people milling around all the time and you know they are directing it at you. They are not as nice as Mr. Scheidler. They did not put our names on the banners or anything. That would have made it all the worse. It was bad enough. It is a drag driving your Mercury through a line of people who are handing you leaflets through the window. But, we did. There was a Fundamentalist church down the road that had organized this thing and they were there every blessed day–rain, sunshine, cold, snow–they did it. They got the hospital to stop doing abortions. I will give you a hint. They had an administrator who was sympathetic. But they also got to the nurses in the operating room. You know, a doctor cannot do an operating room abortion without an assistant, and when they got all the assistants, and all the women in the OR who didn’t want to do them anyway, to say, “I don’t want to do this anymore,” there weren’t any assistants left. Ergo–no abortions. The hospital did not do any more abortions. They succeeded in that regard, but we just took our business down the road. You have to get to them all at once. It is difficult.

In this atmosphere, we just went along–fat, dumb and happy for several years. As I said, my reasons for quitting were a lot more personal, but maybe, I hope, you could draw something from it.

Life was good until June 23, 1984. On that date, I was on call, but I was at home at the time, and we had some friends over, and our children were playing in the back of the yard. At 7:25 that evening, we heard the screech of brakes out in front of the house. We ran outside and Heather was lying in the road. We did everything we could, and she died. (Please excuse me–I have never talked about this at a conference before.)

I went to a Catholic conference in Connecticut a couple of weeks ago. I gave my usual talk and didn’t go into the whys, and one of the bishops came up to me afterwards. He said to me: You haven’t told me why you quit. I kind of avoided it. I told him, and he was the one who encouraged me by saying, you should tell that story. You should let people know.)

Let me tell you something. When you lose a child, your child, life is very different. Everything changes. All of a sudden, the idea of a person’s life becomes very real. It is not an embryology course anymore. It’s not just a couple of hundred dollars. It’s the real thing. It’s your child you buried. The old discomforts came back in spades. I couldn’t even think about a D&E abortion anymore. No way. I kind of carried on business as usual because you try to get on with your life’s business as usual when somebody dies, and I still did just the office abortions for the next few months.

My wife has said many times that she wishes she had videotapes of me during that time. We were under enough strain as it was, but if I knew I had an abortion scheduled in the office the next day, I got very surly. I was hard to be around. I was getting very, very rough with the staff in our office. Every time somebody came up to me and said “I have a patient who needs an abortion. Can you do her on Thursday morning?” I became very angry. I began feeling that people were doing something to me. This was ridiculous–I was doing it to myself. After a few months of that, you start to realize this is somebody’s child. I lost my child, someone who was very precious to us. And now I am taking somebody’s child and I am tearing him right out of their womb. I am killing somebody’s child.

12 weeks

That is what it took to get me to change. My own sense of self-esteem went down the tubes. I began to feel like a paid assassin. That’s exactly what I was. You watch the movies; somebody goes up to somebody, pays them some money to kill somebody. That’s exactly what I was doing. And when my own sense of self-esteem went down the drain, that was all it took.

It is still “old habits die hard.” But it got to a point, and Cic and I talked about it together, that it just wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth it to me anymore. The money wasn’t worth it. I don’t care. This is coming out of my hide; it is costing me too much. It is costing me too much personally. For all the money in the world, it wouldn’t have made any difference. So I quit. I slept a lot better at night after that. It really made a difference.

There may be the key there. Not every abortionist is going to lose a child or have something profoundly affect their lives; but therein, perhaps, lies the key: If you can make doing the abortion cost the obstetrician/gynecologist more than he is getting from it. What he is getting from it is money. I can tell you, he doesn’t really get anything else. We don’t get any great feeling of accomplishment–at least, I never did. Even if you believe the pro-woman line, I just somehow never got some warm glow because I thought I was helping women out. All he gets from it is money. And as a doctor, he can make money lots of ways. He doesn’t have to do it this way.

 

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